Hanging On Our Own Bones
105 pages

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105 pages
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• Title is a collection of the author’s greatest short works, from a Lambda Award-winning prolific feminist poet

• Feminist, LGBTQ, anti-racism collection that will appeal to Judy Grahn's existing fan base, the literary community, LGBTQ readers and social justice activists, and professors teaching courses on queer culture, feminism, and activism

• Market/publicity focus: bookstores, universities

• Author plans to tour New York, Los Angeles, New Mexico, Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco



Publié par
Date de parution 15 août 2017
Nombre de lectures 3
EAN13 9780989036146
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 1 Mo

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Hanging On Our Own Bones Copyright © 2017 by Judy Grahn All Rights Reserved
No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without the prior written permission of both the publisher and the copyright owner.
Book layout by Silvia Gomez & Selena Trager
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Grahn, Judy, 1940-author. Title: Hanging on our own bones / Judy Grahn. Description: First edition. | Pasadena, CA : Arktoi Books, [2017] Identifiers: LCCN 2017007482 | ISBN 9780989036139 (softcover : acid-free paper) Classification: LCC PS3557.R226 A6 2017 | DDC 811/.54—dc23 LC record available athttps://lccn.loc.gov/2017007482
The National Endowment for the Arts, the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, the Dwight Stuart Youth Fund, the Max Factor Family Foundation, the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Foundation, the Pasadena Arts & Culture Commission and the City of Pasadena Cultural Affairs Division, the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, the Audrey & Sydney Irmas Charitable Foundation, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Amazon Literary Partnership, and the Sherwood Foundation partially support Red Hen Press.
First Edition Published by Arktoi Books An imprint of Red Hen Press www.redhen.org
Thanks to Kate Gale and Mark Cull, and the staff of Red Hen Press, and especially my editor Terry Wolverton. I also need to thank my wif e, Kris Brandenburger, for her feedback, as well as my friend Dianne Jenett for he rs. My gratitude also belongs to those many people who contributed to the shaping an d distribution of these poems over the past forty-three years.
Introduction: Contemporary Lamentations in Nine Parts
A Woman Is Talking to Death (1973)
Helen you always were / the factory (1981)
Descent to the Roses of a Family (1985)
Amazon Rising from the Dust (1986)
women are tired of the ways men bleed (2003)
Mental (2005)
Crossing (2016)
Contemporary Lamentations in Nine Parts
V was sitting in my office wiping tears from her ch eeks and eyes; she was one of my older students, very dedicated to women’s rights, a nd I knew she worked as a volunteer in a battered women’s shelter. “I just keep thinkin g about this friend of mine who also works at the shelter,” she said. “Her son was killed last month by the police, for n o reason, no reason at all. He had an emotional breakdown, that’s all, and he was shou ting and holding a knife—not even a big knife, a little knife—I just feel so terrible for her, and so angry.” V’s grief and outrage passed over to me, and becaus e I cared so much about her, it was as if I too knew the mother, and the murdered s on. At the same time another student, Anna Knox, was te lling me about her struggles to get her schizophrenic mother cared for in the menta l health system. Their stories deeply affected me, all the more so as my own mothe r, now passed, had suffered from schizophrenia. I was also witnessing an upsurge of homelessness in the city, and obviously troubled war vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Within a few weeks a confluence of emotionally vivi d images and stories rose up in me, spilling out in the form of a nine-part poem I called “Mental.” Grief, anger, and a deep collective sense of injust ice motivated my poetic mind. Similar confluences had motivated the other poems i n this collection as well, though organized around different themes: women as a gende r left out of history, or roots of white supremacy in a family dynamic, or the pressin g need (and possibility) for individuals to take authority and responsibility fo r social problems. The poems in this collection are united in these overlapping and rela ted themes as well as in their structure as nine parts of a single thought-feeling . The seven poems were written over a long period of time, from 1973 to 2016, yet their relationship seems clear. I’ve wondered how t o describe that relationship. The poems are all narrative in form, but interspersed w ith lines based in rhythm. “We were driving home slow, my lover and I / across the long Bay Bridge, / one February midnight, when midway / over in the far left lane, I saw a strange scene.” Yet within the same poem, a section breaks into this quirky verse: “Bless this day oh cat our house / help me be not such a mouse.” The opening stanzas of a poem in this collection ma y lead us to expect a single voice or point of view, but then a polyvocal chorus or a dialogue appears, as in the poem “Amazon Rising from the Dust,” when the “Amazo n Chorus” breaks into a glorification of their sex-bonding powers: “Horse m y pelvis, horse my thighs, / horse the thunder in my eyes …” Time also slips around; a poe m may appear to be in either a contemporary or ancient time frame, and then jump i nto the other, or the future. More peculiarly, they may seem to be telling “my” story, but really they are quite a collectivity of experience; and, while some of this is realistic , some is mythic, as in “Helen you always were / the factory,” a portrayal of Helen of Troy as a goddess of work, and workers, and of the beauty, as well as the sweat an d blood, of labor. Gender also slides, especially in “Mental,” where “Mickey” coul d be any gender, and the soldier has a beard in one line and is identified ambiguously w ith the “mother” in other lines. What holds these poems all together, given these an d other differences? Recently I happened on a study of an ancient Greek form of lam entation and found some striking
similarities. What is a lamentation? Lamentation in song and poem , especially by women mourning death in public ways, has widespread histo ry, from Africa to Eurasia, at least, if not over the globe. In ancient Greece, lamentati ons used a formal poetic structure, utilizing meter, metaphor, and rhyme (Alexiou). Ant iphony (argumentative dialogue), refrain, and choral voices are also the stuff of la mentation, as is antithesis, saying the opposite of what one means. The delivery can be bot h private or public tribute to the deceased and—in the case of violent death—a plea fo r continuance of, or an end to, the war and/or other oppression. The poetic stanzas were usually sung, and in ancient Greek tradition, always by women. Professional lame nters who applied their art in public were members of certain families for whom la menting was a hereditary occupation. Nature was usually invoked for beauty a nd power and to divert the grief to an aesthetic and more positive state. In addition to honoring individuals, lamentations c ould be used to mark the collective civilian dead of a war or the devastation of a city , as in the Biblical lamentations on the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE, or long before that, by poets of Sumer lamenting destruction of their cities, Lagash for example. Th e form was also applied to sorrows surrounding deities, as with the sorrowing of Demeter as she searches for her daughter Persephone, or instructions the goddess Inanna give s to her vizier to mourn and play a hand drum before supplicating the gods for her rele ase from the underworld. Poetic rituals marked the annual agricultural “death” of a harvest god such as Adonis in Southern Europe or Osiris in North Africa. The biblical book of Lamentations grieves the destr uction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, with the city itself metaphorically im agined as a grieving widow. Later, Christian medieval poets delivered laments in Mary’ s voice for her crucified son. Blood is connected to lamentation. In Greece, women scratched their cheeks, and two thousand years earlier in Mesopotamia, instruct ions for lamentation included the tearing of corners of the lips or eyes, of the brea st, and of the vulva to produce a dramatic flow of blood as though even their mouths, eyes and wombs bled grief. Wailing or keening might accompany the song/poem. A lamentation can also be a communal mourning and h ave political power, especially to draw attention to and affect affairs of state such as the provoking of endless blood feuds, protesting assassinations, and of course lionizing, critiquing, and even stopping or starting warfare. Centuries ago Gr eek rulers and lawmakers, wishing to consolidate the powers of kings and states, both economically and through military expansion, forbade the traditional lamenting women to perform their public arts. In the laws of Solon (sixth century BCE) restrictions were placed on lamenting to curb its highly emotional provocation, so for instance both bleeding cheeks and torn clothing were forbidden. While the lamenters continued to be female (Alexiou) the lamenting was restricted and this seems to have been part of a family change to male (only) inheritance, and placing an emphasis on public lame nting of (almost exclusively) male war heroes. Hence a change in lamentation practices marked a change in gender power relations and blood rituals as well. A lamentation, then, pours out of a poet’s heart no t only from a deep sense of loss, but also of outrage and justice needed or denied; i t takes its own time exploring the emotions and implications, and aims at the possibil ity of transformation, both individual and collective. It may seek to sound an alarm or na me the unnamable, and clearly a certain kind of lamentation has been seen as transg ressive against oppressive authority or conditions, toward the goal of possibl e social change. I have wanted to be
transgressive in my poetry, incorporating both real -life conditions and goddess mythology, going directly toward critiquing white s upremacy, honoring battered women, exalting the powers of menstruation, conflating all labor with birth imagery, and revealing lateral hostilities among potential allie s—all in order to arouse a meaningful social critique. But although these are rational th oughts, each poem originated from a deeply felt grief and sense of outrage. So I submit that the seven poems in this collection can be described as contemporary lamenta tions, as together they use all of the methods attached to the form: metaphors drawing on the powers of nature, meter, chorus, call and response, polyvocality, repetition , antiphony, antithesis, and invoking grief and/or outrage over conditions involving both humans and deities, and both individuals and collectivities. I certainly never formally studied lamentations, th ough in eighth grade the English teacher did have us memorize Samuel Coleridge’sThe Rime of the Ancient Mariner in its entirety—surely this long morbid morality tale imprinted on a thirteen-year-old who wanted to become a poet. Coleridge taught me that a poem can contain many emotions and interactions, including with the super natural. Other groundwork was laid in my childhood readings of Jeremiah’s Lamentations , which portray the destroyed city of Jerusalem as a poverty stricken and socially sha med widow. In the book of Job, various poets have been compiled to tell the story of Job’s travails using interwoven narrative, tough as well as lush poetic imagery, an d dialogues, as Job and his friends try to decipher the moral lessons behind his suffer ing. InThe Rime of the Ancient Marineruilt and despair as the price of, Coleridge took his time in detailing ordeals of g not loving and treasuring all the creatures on eart h. Perhaps these could all be understood broadly as forms of lamentation. Lamentations have a wealth of forms and a few requi rements—they must read well out loud, they must address current pressing issues , they must make every attempt to be truthful, and their ultimate value rests on how they impact their readers and listeners. So it follows that a criteria for evalua ting or explaining a lamentation must surely include some of the effects it has had on re aders and listeners. Toward this end Red Hen Press has provided a portion of their web s ite to host essays on and testimonials to these poems. These include Margot G ayle Backus persuasively describing “A Woman Is Talking to Death” as a “lesb ian invocational elegy;” Joe Moffett placingThe Queen of Swordsin a context of Charles Olson; Delia Fisher and Jo hanna Dehler exquisitely describing aspects of women’s po wer; a translation of “Mental” into Spanish by Mesha Irizarry, the mother of the murder ed young man in section seven, and much more. The ultimate task of a public lamentation is “to mo ve people.” This is more than a description of emotional impact, it’s also a geogra phy of the heart, to move people into places of empathy and courage, even action. Many ha ve been moved to perform the poems in this volume, onstage, in bars, in prisons; others have been moved to translate them, or set parts to music, jazz, folk, rock. Often people say they have done this as a response to rape or battery, as response to war, or racism, or other forms of social death. Some of the poems have been smuggled into homophobic countries, or used in classrooms as psychological tools for heali ng trauma and exclusion. For me personally, they keep me in community. Elliott Femynye batTzedek has written of reading on e of them at Yom Kippur, “as a liturgy of failure and redemption that speaks to th e very center of my life.” Elliot continues, “This is what it means to live deeply wi th a poem for twenty years, to have encountered it in so many different parts of your l ife that its presence is thread through
a needle, and everything you do is stitched with it . At the moment that a poet’s words become the best words to describe your own reality, the poem becomes sinew, stretching from the poet to you, across time and di stance and culture.”
Source: Margaret Alexiou.The Ritual Lament in Greek Tradition. Lanham: Bowman & Little-field Publishers, 1992.
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